Roller Coaster Rabbit

(USA 1990)

I saw Dick Tracy during its original theatrical run, and I don’t remember a Roger Rabbit cartoon with it. Then again, I don’t remember tee shirt tickets, either. So, what do I know?

Directed by Rob Minkoff and Frank Marshall, Roller Coaster Rabbit is essentially a Warner Brothers cartoon — right down to the logo at the beginning. Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer) is left to babysit Baby Herman (Lou Hirsch) at a county fair while his mother (April Winchell) goes off and … does something else. I don’t know what.

A red balloon is the impetus for the insanity: Baby Herman drags Roger into a series of painful mishaps involving darts, gunshots, cogs, a roller coaster, and a grazing bull (Frank Welker) whose nuts become an object of Baby Herman’s curiosity. The story is a group project: Bill Kopp, Kevin Harkey, Lynne Naylor, and Patrick A. Ventura all contribute. Clearly, they’ve seen their share of ‘40s and ‘50s cartoons. There’s even a cameo by Droopy (Corey Burton). I respect that. Roller Coaster Rabbit is a fun piece of fluff.

With Kathleen Turner, Charlie Adler

Production: Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

Distribution: Buena Vista Pictures

7 minutes
Rated PG

(Music Box) B-

Chicago Film Society

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

(USA 1988)

Let’s get this out up front: the appeal of Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not its outstanding narrative. Based on Gary K. Wolf’s novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman’s screenplay is competently written but it’s conventional if not downright pedestrian, a standard whodunnit complete with hiding, seeking, and a clock ticking. The situations are goofy, the characters are even goofier, and the jokes…well, they’re silly. The whole thing relies too heavily on farce and slapstick for my taste.

Los Angeles, 1947: alcoholic private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is summoned to the studios of movie mogul R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern). Studio star Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer) is unraveling over romantic rumors involving his amply curvaceous toon wife Jessica (Kathleen Turner) and human Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the inventor and maker of the sundry gadgets used in cartoons. It’s affecting the studio’s bottom line, so Maroon hires Valiant to check it out.

After catching Jessica’s act at an underground club, Valiant spies on her and Acme in her dressing room. He takes pictures of them playing “patty-cake.” He turns them over to Maroon, who shows them to Roger. Assuming the worst, he promptly freaks.

The next morning, Acme is found dead — a cartoon safe crushing his head. Naturally, all signs point to Roger. Dastardly Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), cloaked in a black cape and an evil hidden agenda, is following Roger’s tail. Valiant is unwillingly yanked into a crazy adventure to exonerate Roger, find a will, and stop Doom from selling Toontown, the appropriately named neighborhood where toons live, to a freeway developer.

Despite its shortcomings, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a technical marvel unlike much before it. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it took awhile to make. It was a box office blockbuster, and it’s easy to see why. From the outset, it’s a dazzling mix of animated characters, or “toons,” interacting with real people. The look and technique are impeccable, with natural movement and even toons and humans touching that melds seamlessly without any jumps or visual hiccups. An ongoing gag with Roger handcuffed to Valiant, for example, is flawless. Clearly, this film was assembled with painstaking attention to timing. It is, in a word, neat.

Plus, the incorporation of classic cartoons — from Betty Boop to Woody Woodpecker to Droopy, to a scene with Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse to a piano duel between Daffy Duck and Donald Duck — is really, really fun. I’m sure this is the only place you’ll ever see Warner Brothers and Disney characters together, and it’s a hoot.

In 2016, the United States Library of Congress deemed Who Framed Roger Rabbit “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Joanna Cassidy, Lou Hirsch, Mike Edmonds, Eugene Guirterrez, Mae Questel, Mel Blanc, Tony Anselmo, Mary T. Radford, Joe Alaskey, David Lander, Richard Williams, Wayne Allwine, Tony Pope, Peter Westy, Cherry Davis, Nancy Cartwright

Production: Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

Distribution: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

104 minutes
Rated PG

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

(USA 2017)

Justice, like morality, is ambiguous. Accordingly, determining exactly how justice should be meted out is mired in a lot of grey. Translation: life is not black and white. Justice, like morality, is ambiguous. Accordingly, determining exactly how justice should be meted out is mired in a lot of grey. Translation: life is not black and white.

This old adage makes people uncomfortable, and it’s exactly the concept that colors Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It works so well because it acknowledges that there is no one right answer. Thankfully, as luck would have it, it’s also kind of funny.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is pissed off and tired. Seven months ago, her daughter was raped, murdered, and set on fire, though not necessarily in that order. The police have made no arrests, they have no suspect, and they haven’t uncovered a single lead. The case is precariously close to cold.

Driving down a rural road one morning, Mildred spots three abandoned billboards and gets an idea: she’ll shame Chief of Police Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) into action. She rents the billboards for a full year and posts ads that attack him. The problem is, her idea doesn’t pan out as she plans — in fact, it works against her cause.

Not far off from a Coen Brothers venture, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a twisted and twisting nailbiter. Writer-director Martin McDonagh has a sharp wit, a warped sense of humor, and an impeccable grasp of human nature. The cast is outstanding, with not one subpar performance. At times heartbreaking, this is all around a tightly assembled and enthralling film.

With Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Sam Rockwell, Alejandro Barrios, Jason Redford, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Abbie Cornish, Riya May Atwood, Selah Atwood, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Amanda Warren, Malaya Rivera Drew, Sandy Martin, Peter Dinklage , Christopher Berry, Gregory Nassif St. John, Jerry Winsett, Kathryn Newton, John Hawkes, Charlie Samara Weaving, Clarke Peters, Brendan Sexton III, Eleanor Threatt Hardy, Michael Aaron Milligan

Production: Blueprint Pictures

Distribution: 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Warner Brothers

115 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B+

Chicago International Film Festival

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/threebillboardsoutsideebbingmissouri/

It [It: Chapter One]

(USA 2017)

I’ve started a few Stephen King novels during my life, but I’ve never finished reading any of them. I have, however, seen enough movies based on his books to know what I’m getting into.

It is director Andy Muschietti’s take on King’s 1986 novel, which incidentally came out on my 16th birthday. Scary. It tells the story of a group of bullied junior high outcasts who go after a deranged clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) one summer, the Summer of 1989, after he kills stuttering Bill Denbrough’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), the fall before.

Pennywise lives in the sewer of their small town (Derry, Maine) and resurfaces every 27 years to prey on children through their worst fears.

The screenplay, written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, is only part of the book — presumably to allow for a sequel. It starts out well enough in the same sweet nostalgic way as, oh, Stand by Me. Muschietti gets deatils of the time period mostly right: the Cure and New Kids on the Block were big in ’89 (even though the former’s “Six Different Ways” was two albums and a compilation earlier), and the reference to Molly Ringwald fits. He goes full on Steven Spielberg, however, about halfway through, turning It into The Goonies with the kids’ “losers club” and all the action switching to a dark cavernous underground sewer. This is to say, It gets cheesy after awhile.

The kids are all decent actors, and they keep It moving along. Sadly, though, there aren’t any real surprises here. More creepy and icky than outright frightening, Muschietti relies greatly on special effects; they’re good and a lot of work went into them, but they get tiresome after awhile. Plus, some editing would’ve been a good idea; It is too long.

As It is, it’s not a stinker. However, I wasn’t moved by It, either. It is a big budget Hollywood movie aiming to be a blockbuster, and that’s It.

With Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Beverly Marsh, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Geoffrey Pounsett, Pip Dwyer, Elizabeth Saunders, Ari Cohen, Anthony Ulc, Javier Botet, Katie Lunman, Carter Musselman, Tatum Lee

Production: New Line Cinema, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, KatzSmith Productions

Distribution: Warner Brothers

135 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) C

http://itthemovie.com

Dunkirk

(USA / UK / France / Netherlands 2017)

I have mixed feelings about Christopher Nolan’s spectacular Dunkirk, a World War II military drama that has very little to do with battle. Told from three perspectives — land (“the mole”), sea, and air — the story here centers on an evacuation, that of British and allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, a fishing village in northern France at the Belgian border, over a ten-day period in late Spring 1940 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunkirk_evacuation).

I have to admit ignorance here: I knew nothing about the Dunkirk evacuation going into this film. Nolan doesn’t spend any time on background or what led to this point; instead, he just picks up with British soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) fleeing German fire outside the beach. I wish I had known ahead of time because I would have done some research. I thought a better job could have been done telling the story.

The structure, jumping between the three perspectives, takes a little work to follow. What exactly is going on is unclear and confusing, and it creates a nice sense of claustrophobia and panic in many scenes — especially that boat scene. This is good. However, keeping track of the characters is a tough task not made any easier by giving all the soldiers the exact same black hair dye. I found it hard to relate to or care much about any of them because I was kept at arm’s length. I couldn’t get invested. While definitely not the same story, Dunkirk is a kind of a big budget Son of Saul — just not as good.

As a spectacle, though, Dunkirk is magnificent. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot it on 70 millimeter film, and he packs this picture with gorgeous wide shots of the beach, the sea, and throngs of desperate soldiers. He beautifully captures the hopelessness of the situation with a drab palette of only a few army colors: greens, greys, blues, and cold whites that convey a chill I could see and feel. The sound is over the top loud. If nothing else, Dunkirk is total sensory overload. It’s worth seeing for that alone.

Side note: I’m not sure which is the bigger surprise here — that 1D’s Harry Styles actually isn’t terrible, or that Tom Hardy is hidden under aviator goggles for the entire film. The latter is a bummer. He’s so hot!

With Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine

Production: Syncopy, Warner Brothers, Dombey Street Productions, Kaap Holland Film, Canal+, Ciné+, RatPac-Dune Entertainment

Distribution: Warner Brothers, Karo Premiere (Russia), NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), Roadshow Entertainment (New Zealand), Roadshow Films (Australia)

106 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Music Box) C+

http://www.dunkirkmovie.com

Best in Show

(USA 2000)

“We met at Starbucks. Not at the same Starbucks, but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other.”

— Meg Swan

I’m an enthusiastic fan of sharp, quirky humor; the more biting, the better. I love stuff like Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, Strangers with Candy, The Office, Little Britain, and of course Christopher Guest’s This is Spinal Tap, one of my favorite not to mention most quoted films.

Best in Show, another “mockumentary” like the ones Guest has become known for, is right up my alley. It pokes fun at a culture many no doubt find strange: dog shows. Woof!

Best in Show follows five canines and their owners as they prepare for and travel to a dog competition, the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show — that title is perfect! — in Philadelphia. The characters are awesome and the situations they get into are fun. The cast, which includes then-minor stars like Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge who would go on to bigger things, is stellar. Guest and Eugene Levy’s screenplay is deliciously mean. This is all good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love it. I saw Best in Show a long while back, but this time it just didn’t strike me as funny as I remember it. I don’t know what it was — I had a long week and I had to travel the next morning, so maybe that explains why I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it was the martinis. One of these days, I’ll give Best in Show another chance to redeem itself.

With Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Jay Brazeau, John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean, Michael Hitchcock, Christopher Guest, Ed Begley Jr., Beatrice the Weimaraner, Winky the Norwich Terrier, Hubert the Bloodhound, Miss Agnes the Shih Tzu, Tyrone the Shih Tzu, Rhapsody in White the Standard Poodle

Production: Castle Rock Entertainment

Distribution: Warner Brothers

90 minutes
Rated PG-13

(iTunes rental) C-

Wonder Woman

(USA 2017)

Director Patty Jenkins aims to do for Wonder Woman what Christopher Nolan—and I suppose to a lesser degree Tim Burton—did for Batman: take an iconic comic book superhero that got campy over the years and return it to its darker roots, producing something dramatic, perhaps weightier, and far more artful. Jenkins doesn’t entirely pull it off with Wonder Woman, but she’s on the right track. I see a sequel or two in the near future, so she’s got time to get there.

To Jenkins’s credit, Wonder Woman is not what I expected. Aside from a nod or two—and that goddamned tiara—all the cut-rate kitsch of the ’70s TV series is gone. This Wonder Woman means business even if she’s still, shall we say, absurd.

Jenkins goes back to the beginning: young Diana (Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey) lives on Themyscira, a hidden island inhabited by war-ready buff goddesses. Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana’s mother, shields her from the strident ways of her subjects. It all has to do with an old score Ares (David Thewlis) seeks to settle—yes, that Ares, the son of Zeus and the god of war. General Antiope (Robin Wright), Hippolyta’s sister and Diana’s aunt/mentor, isn’t having it: she recognizes Diana’s potential and trains her on the sly. Diana blossoms into a beautiful woman (Gal Gadot) with serious supernatural power.

Diana stumbles upon Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a drowning American pilot whose plane crashes off the coast of Themyscira. She rescues him, unwittingly exposing the island to an invasion by German forces. Persuaded by the awesome power of Diana’s Lasso of Hestia, Steve confesses that he’s a spy in the “war to end all wars”—World War I. Spider-sensing Ares is behind it, Diana embarks with Steve on a mission filled with romance, adventure, and espionage in an effort to track down the god and stop the madness.

Wonder Woman starts out all Xena: Warrior Princess, silly and weird in a geeky softcore straight guy “lesbian porn” way that no doubt would appeal to the likes of Wayne and Garth. Thankfully, it moves in another direction once Pine shows up about 40 minutes in. I found myself enjoying Wonder Woman more as the story got to Europe—that storyline is more believable even if it too is silly. The battle scenes are decent with some Hollywood excess and humor thrown in. I love how the theme of gender equality is the star of every scene—neither subtle nor heavy-handed, it’s simply a given.

For all its perks, Wonder Woman is ultimately a typical blockbuster that emphasizes form over substance. If nothing else, it surprises, which is always a plus. Frankly, though, I could’ve kept going completely oblivious to the fact that Wonder Woman is more than Lynda Carter. She was more a lot more fun.

With Danny Huston, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Doutzen Kroes

Production: DC Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel & Unusual Films, Rat-Pac Dune Entertainment LLC, Tencent Pictures, Wanda Pictures

Distribution: Warner Brothers, Karo Premiere (Russia), NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), Roadshow Entertainment (New Zealand), Roadshow Films (Australia), SF Studios (Norway), Tanweer Alliances (Greece)

141 minutes
Rated PG-13

(ArcLight) C

http://wonderwomanfilm.com

The Wizard of Oz

(USA 1939)

“For twenty-three years, I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now… well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it!”

—Auntie Em

 

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.”

—Dorothy

 

“I’ll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too!”

—The Wicked With of the West

 

“Only bad witches are ugly.”

—Glenda

 

“Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain.”

“Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”

“You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you’re confusing courage with wisdom.”

—The Wizard of Oz

Growing up when I did, The Wizard of Oz aired on TV every year, and only once a year. It was a special event. I distinctly remember it being on Thanksgiving, but digging around online contradicts me—while some sources back me up, others say Easter, February, and even Christmas. Whatever. I’ve seen it so many times, I know it by heart. So do many people. Like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (https://moviebloke.com/2016/03/26/willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory/ ), The Wizard of Oz is a celluloid relic from my childhood that still stirs something in me.

This annual tradition stopped sometime in the ’90s, probably because home video and cable allowed one to see it anytime. So, I was downright thrilled to see a screening near me over a different holiday weekend this year: Memorial Day. I’ve only seen this film on the big screen once or maybe twice before, so I couldn’t resist.

This is where I usually launch into the story, where I might get into some of the details of Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her weird Technicolor odyssey to the Emerald City after a tornado lifts her, Toto (Terry), and her farmhouse out of Kansas and drops her somewhere over the rainbow in Munchkinland—right on top of the unseen Wicked Witch of the East, whose crazy striped socks and shriveled feet are permanently etched in my memory—provoking the ire of the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) thanks to a pair of ruby slippers.

Let’s be honest, though: we all know the story. Does anything more need to be said about The Wizard of Oz, which is probably the best known and most seen film, ever? Classic and iconic, it set a cinematic benchmark that hasn’t been surpassed nearly a century on, and probably never will be. Loaded with character, song, color, and cool props, it’s a one of a kind spectacle. Its magic continues to inspire.

Harold Rosson’s cinematography is top notch. Seeing it today, I was wowed by the sepiatone Kansas scenes, which were plain old black and white on TV. I always feel a rush when Dorothy opens the door after she crashes, but seeing Munchkinland on the big screen is so much more awesome. So is that scene in the poppy field, and so is the Emerald City with its otherworldy green glow—like paranormal depression glass. Marvelous!

Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the film’s history behind the camera is every bit as colorful as…well, Munchkinland. Victor Fleming is credited as director, but The Wizard of Oz actually had five: Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, Fleming, and King Vidor (https://www.shmoop.com/wizard-of-oz/director.html ). Over a dozen writers contributed to the screenplay (http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Wizard_of_Oz_Screenwriters ). Although the munchkin suicide is by all accounts nothing more than a rumor, Hamilton was burned badly (https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/09/06/priority-margaret-hamilton-wicked-witch-west-wizard-oz-suffered-3rd-degree-burns-face-hands-scene-munchkinland-exits-ball-flame/ ). Buddy Ebsen was initially cast as the Tin Man, but he dropped out of the film when he suffered a severe allergic reaction to the aluminum makeup used on his face (http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Buddy_Ebsen ). However, his voice remains in the scene where Garland, Ray Bolger as the scarecrow, and Jack Haley, Ebsen’s replacement, sing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” after the Tin Man is reanimated with oil.

Legend has it (though it’s probably exaggerated) that the actors who played the munchkins were worse than drunk sailors, holding sex parties and trashing the hotel where they stayed in Culver City (http://www.seeing-stars.com/Hotels/CulverHotel.shtml ) (http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/wizard-oz-mucnhkins-didnt-just-9782402 ) (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/dogged-by-rumour-the-riddles-of-oz-1766264.html ). Garland allegedly claimed that she was repeatedly accosted by a number of them (http://people.com/celebrity/teenage-judy-garland-was-repeatedly-molested-by-munchkins-on-set-of-wizard-of-oz-says-her-ex-husband/ ). What a world, what a world!

In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Wizard of Oz “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick, Pat Walshe, Charles Becker, Buster Brodie

Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/MGM

Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/MGM, Warner Brothers

102 minutes
Not rated

(ArcLight) A+

http://www.thewizardofoz.warnerbros.com

Lost Highway

(USA 1997)

I watched David Lynch’s Lost Highway on my iPad on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Rochester. The one thing I strongly recommend is that it be viewed on the big screen, or at the very least on a flatscreen television. Quite simply, the visuals here are far too beautiful to see in an abridged format. And frankly, the visuals—sets, colors, costumes, actors, props—are the best part of the film.

The second thing I recommend is that it be watched under the influence of something—booze, pot, or better yet, prescription drugs.

This begs a question I’ll just answer: Lost Highway is fucked up—thrillingly so. The whole things starts with a videotape of our unlucky hero, saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), murdering his wife (Patricia Arquette), who in an alternate universe is having an affair with Madison’s younger alterego, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). The married couple has no memory of this murder. Neither party seems aware of this wrinkle in time and space, either. The connection lies with two people: demanding gangster Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) and creepy-ass flour-faced Robert Blake in what must be his most frightening role as The Mystery Man, a pallid ghost straight from a silent movie or a video by The Cure.

Lost Highway isn’t my favorite David Lynch film. However, it’s intriguing and vague enough to keep me thinking about it. I’m not sure what to make of this one—but I’m also not sure I care enough to do the work to figure it out. Maybe someday, definitely not today. The star cameos are enough for now.

Interesting fact: Lost Highway features the final film performances of Blake, Jack Nance, and Richard Pryor. Who knew?

With Alice Wakefield, John Roselius, Lou Eppolito, Henry Rollins, Mink Stole, Gary Busey, Lucy Butler, Giovanni Ribisi, Marilyn Manson, David Lynch

Production: October Films, CiBy 2000, Asymmetrical Productions, Lost Highway Productions LLC

Distribution: October Films (USA), Polygram Filmed Entertainment (UK), Rialto Film AG (Switzerland), RCV Film Distribution, Cinemussy (Spain), Senator Film (Germany), Atalanta Filmes (Portugal), Edko Films (Hong Kong), NTV-PROFIT (Russia), Artistas Argentinos Asociados (AAA) (Argentina), AmaFilms (Greece), New Star (Greece), Sandrew Film (Sweden), United International Pictures (UIP) (Australia), Warner Brothers (Finland)

134 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) C+

http://www.davidlynch.de

Empire Records

(USA 1995)

“I’m the idiot, you’re the screw up, and we are all losers,” sums up Empire Records general manager Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) when he realizes that clerk Lucas (Rory Cochrane) blew the store’s receipts in Atlantic City the night before, which incidentally was the first time Joe let him close shop. His heart was in the right place: Lucas wanted to raise capital to buy the store before owner Mitchell (Ben Bode) sells it to a lame corporate chain called Music Town. Empire Records, you see, is more than a retail outlet: it’s a haven for floundering misfits, including a young shoplifter (Brendon Sexton) who goes by “Warren Beatty.”

Empire Records was a box office bomb (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=empirerecords.htm). Carol Heikkinen’s script is earnest in its desire to (I guess) reveal some revelation about ’90s youth, but the plot is all too predictable, coming off as a third-rate The Breakfast Club. The cast, though, is impressive; loaded with professionals (Debi Mazar and Maxwell Caulfield) and future stars like Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler, the actors collectively ooze a credible chemistry. Director Allan Moyle pulls some decent performances out of them. A playfully snarky sense of humor about American culture pervades this film, evident in such nifty devices as “Rex Manning Day” and a dream sequence involving Gwar.

Empire Records is very much a product of its time, but that’s what makes it interesting to watch now. This no doubt is why it was selected as the third screening of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series.

With Robin Tunney, Johnny Whitworth, James “Kimo” Wills, Ethan Embry, Coyote Shivers

Production: Monarchy Enterprises B.V., New Regency Pictures, Regency Entertainment, Warner Brothers

Distribution: Warner Brothers

90 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Public Chicago) C+

Chicago International Film Festival